A group of Armenian civil society organisations is to stop working with the government on police reforms after the appointment of Vahe Ghazaryan, reportedly a childhood friend of PM Nikol Pashinyan, as Minister of Internal Affairs.
In a statement on Tuesday, three leading Armenian NGOs announced that they were pulling out of the Police Reform Coordination Council, dismissing it as ‘pointless in the current situation’.
‘Instead of addressing […] the challenges that undermine the reform process, the political authorities with such appointments, in fact, not only encourage those who resist the reform process but also eradicate trust in the process of establishing the Ministry of Interior’, the statement said.
The groups said they had recorded several instances in which Ghazaryan and other police leaders had ‘actively resisted’ the systemic reforms they said were needed. This included ‘attempting to fire patrol officers who pulled over the cars of high-ranking officials’ and ‘awarding the rank of officers to acquaintances and relatives’, as well as apparent corruption cases.
The government had floated the idea of reestablishing an interior ministry for several years, after former President Robert Kocharyan dissolved it in 2002.
According to a bill adopted by parliament in late December, the ministry would include the police, and the rescue and immigration services. The heads of the Police and rescue services would also serve as deputy ministers.
Criticism of the new appointment began as soon as Ghazaryan’s name began to circulate as a possible candidate.
Artur Sakunts, the head of one of the groups taking part in the reforms, the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly-Vanadzor, wrote on Facebook that if a current or former police officer were appointed ‘no reforms or changes can be expected’.
‘Nikol Pashinyan has the habit of starting a good project and [then] toppling it’, Daniel Ioannisyan, the project coordinator for Union of Informed Citizens, another of the groups wrote following Ghazaryan’s appointment.
The groups had taken part in changes including the launch of a new Patrol Police service in the capital Yerevan and several provinces, with plans to roll out the service nationally.
Ghazaryan has long proved a controversial figure.
Several leading civil society groups had been calling for his resignation as police chief after the police forcefully removed the bereaved relatives of soldiers from Yerevan’s military cemetery on Independence Day prior to a visit by Pashinyan.
Members of the ruling Civil Contract Party had previously insisted that the new ministry would be an independent, ‘apolitical’ body.
Vahe Ghazaryan, reportedly the Prime Minister’s childhood friend from Pashinyan’s hometown of Ijevan, was the head of police of the resort town of Dilijan in 2018 when Pashinyan took power in Armenia. Since then, he has been promoted several times, becoming the national Chief of the Police in 2020.